Moving to the USA with children

There are so many reasons that moving to the USA can be a very exciting time for the family, but the idea of living somewhere new, however thrilling the prospect, can be daunting for children. Emotional ties to home aside, there are practical steps which can be taken that will help children adjust and feel at home in their new surroundings.
Although a move to anywhere in the world is an exciting leap for a family to make together, the United States of America is one destination in particular that really has the ability to capture the imagination of children. From the sunny Californian west coast to the trendy streets of New York, scenes from the USA are firmly ingrained in popular culture, and the idea of a move to this vast and varied country promises an unforgettable experience.
The appeal is heightened by ease of settling in, no doubt helped by the common language. The most recent HSBC Expat Explorer survey cites 70 per cent of expats in the States citing a strong connection to the host country.
Of course, moving to the USA with children isn’t all about introducing them to fantastically diverse landscapes, exciting cultural experiences and bringing those movie-set scenes to life. The US school system varies considerably from state to state and needs to be navigated with care to ensure your children start their new life abroad in the best possible position.
Here is a guide to help plan moving to the USA with children

Before you go

Managing expectations is crucial when moving with children, so it is good to get them involved as early as possible. Make sure they have enough time to adjust to the idea of moving and get to say a proper good-bye to important family members and friends they will be leaving behind. Collect photos and keep-sakes that can be taken with you when you travel to give your new house an instant feeling of home by having familiar object around the house. You could also showing them the area that you are planning on moving to (Google Street View is a great way of being able to explore the area before leaving home), parks, playgrounds and places to plan visits to when you arrive. It might even be possible to view your prospective new home online – facilitating the all important bedroom selection before you arrive.

School days

One of the main advantages of moving to the USA is that your children will not have to learn another language, which is often a barrier for integrating the child into a new school and circle of friends. If you have school aged children you could also show them the school that they will be attending. Educational stages are slightly different in the USA, compared to the UK. Elementary school (starting with kindergarten) starts at age 5-6 and continues until age 10-11. Junior high school runs from 11-12 to 14-15 and senior high is from 15-16 to 17-18.
Depending on the age of your child they may need certain vaccinations, much like they would at school in the UK, before you leave because of a different vaccination schedule adopted by the American schools system. Without the correct immunisations in place your child might not be allowed to attend school, so it is highly recommend that you seek advice from your GP as far in advance of moving to the USA as possible.
School life for children in the USA begins at five years of age with kindergarten. Many younger children also attend pre-school or nursery in advance, although it is worth noting that there are no childcare facilities sponsored by the government. As a result, childcare for babies and toddlers can prove expensive, although this varies between the states, with costs in destinations such as New York, Washington and Massachusetts being much higher than those in Kentucky or Mississippi, for example.
Compulsory education lasts up until children are 16, although most will attend until graduation at 17 or 18 years of age, and expat children will be eligible to attend a local public school which is generally free, aside from the general costs of equipment and books. Bear in mind that the quality of public schools can be vastly different depending on neighbourhood or state – public schools are often funded by property taxes and as a result, school facilities in wealthier areas tend to be of a higher quality. Children who attend public school can enjoy the added benefit of mingling with local children, as placements are determined by location.
Magnet schools might be an option if your son or daughter has an interest in a specialised subject. These schools are also free to attend and although they cover all subjects, they focus on a key area of the curriculum such as Performing Arts or Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).
Alternatively, you might wish to consider one of the many reputable private schools in the USA. The curriculums, extra-curricular activities and teaching styles in private schools tend to be more varied, flexible and supportive compared with the public school system, making these establishments a great option for children with special educational needs. However, competition for places can be fierce and schools can be selective.
The top choice for expats planning on short term stints in the USA is to enrol their children into an international school which provides the same curriculum as their home country. International schools are located in many of the big cities, including LA and New York City. However, the wise expat family will apply as far in advance as possible, as the most popular schools can have long waiting lists.
Finally, an increasing number of families are choosing to homeschool their children, either teaching subjects themselves or through a private tutor. If this route appeals, consult your specific state’s regulations and curriculum to guide your way.

A quick way to meet and make friends

If your child plays sport, research local teams and groups with your child, show them websites that you have found and ask them if they would like to play there. Preparation and research in advance will help the transition so it is less of a shock, for both you and your child, when you arrive in America. Playing sport is a great way to help your child become integrated at their new school and get to know their peers.
In many of the cities in America you will find a large number of other expat parents with children, many of them will belong to a form of expat group or expat parents group that meet on a regular basis. These groups can easily be found after a quick internet search or, if your new place of work is of a reasonable size, your point of contact in the HR department might know of one. These groups offer a great opportunity to socialise with other people that will have gone through similar experiences when moving to the USA.

Importing goods

There are very few rules regarding importing goods that will have an impact on your children, meaning that if your child is particularly attached to their favourite bicycle, that can go with you when moving to the USA. Bikes and outdoor equipment can be more challenging to take to Australia and New Zealand where they have firmer regulations in place for items that may have come into contact with soil and grass.
For more details about the American customs clearance procedure, please read our guide here. If you are considering moving to the USA, click here for more information about Cadogan Tate’s specialist Moving to America service.


Children can grow very attached to their favourite toys and possessions, with this in mind you might want to ask them to draw or list things that they would miss when you move to the USA, and then ask them for their help to pack boxes, and later hand luggage for the flight, based on their comfort items. If there is a certain toy that will be joining you on the flight try to explain to your child that teddy might have to go for a quick scan by himself when you go through airport security. It is very advisable to explain as much of the procedure as possible to your child to avoid any unexpected tantrums.

When you arrive

Upon arrival into your new home, setting up a working internet connection will be very important, both for yourself and your child. Put measures in place where your child is able to communicate with friends and family members back home. Video calling software packages such as Skype are very popular amongst expats and their families as it allows users to talk, for free, over the internet, often utilising webcams and microphones.
Information correct at time of publication.